On Love – Unrequited, Political and Otherwise … Encore: Leonard Cohen and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Dance to the Rhythm of Abolition Democracy

The GAU website and newsletter platform provide individuals the opportunity to engage in incisive argument, advocacy, deliberation and dialogue regarding a wide array of topics potentially of interest to readers. The views expressed in this essay do not necessarily reflect the views of Graduate Assistants United. Some of the perspectives and analyses featured in the following article almost certainly do not reflect all the diverse views of the many Graduate Assistants who are represented by the union at SIUC, nor do the opinions and anecdotes advanced below represent the positions of any other members of GAUnited.

By James Anderson

Since the last time I penned another piece in my ongoing series of Valentine’s Day confessionals, Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen died.

Cohen, posthumously deemed the “poet laureate of the lack,” was 82. An accomplished poet and novelist at an early age, he did not start seriously performing music until his early 30s. Entering the music scene with a maturity and lyrical sophistication few ever develop, he was renowned for seamlessly fusing allusions to the divine with innuendos apropos of sexual euphoria in his lyrics.

Perhaps his most famous song, “Hallelujah,” illustrates that theme. “I remember when I moved in you,” he sings in a version of the song performed live in London, “and the holy dove, she was moving too / And every single breath that we drew was Hallelujah.” The song moves rhythmically back and forth between spiritual intimations and insinuations of ecstatic intercourse. The song evokes the procession of prayer while simultaneously progressing toward climax and release, reflecting the sexual experience. However, “Hallelujah,” is also about the glory of romantic intimacy even when it exists only as memory, long after the rhythms of two bodies moving together has fallen off beat – or, as with some of us, when the ecstatic awkwardness has returned to a solo and (quite literally) single-handed affair aided only by the painful memory of previous bodily interactions.

It is that embodied, sensuous and super-sexual, yet simultaneously transcendent, power of love –unrequited, political and otherwise – Cohen’s lyrics alert us to.

“There’s a crack, a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in,” Cohen reminds us in the song, “Anthem,” which is quoted at the beginning of the PhD dissertation I defended last May, despite there being no love lost between me and most of the professorial class in the college at SIUC I then belonged to.

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Non-Tenure Track Faculty at University of Illinois Strike to Stabilize Positions, Picket on Campus to End Precarious Employment

By James Anderson

In between late-night alcohol binges at Kam’s, visits to Papa Del’s for indelible slices of blended Sicilian and Chicago-style pizza, flâneur-like walks down the bustling semi-urban atmosphere of Green Street, and journeys east of campus to the Independent Media Center fashioned years ago out of an old post office for the purpose of empowering community members to communicate their own counter-power, undergraduates at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign might have encountered something a little out of the ordinary in April.

Students likely saw a strike.

Hundreds of non-tenure track faculty at UIUC walked out of their classrooms, vacated their labs and otherwise withheld their labor power on Tuesday, April 19, and Wednesday, April 20.


Members of the Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition Local #6546 at U of I organized the two-day strike to put pressure on the university administration, which has thus far refused to negotiate key bargaining items the union considers essential. The NTFC Local #6546 – affiliate of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors – has been bargaining a contract, or trying to anyway, since October 2014, three months after the union was officially certified.

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Making a Militant Labor Movement to Beat Back Bureaucratic Business Unionism

By James Anderson

During a recent interview with a recruiter from UNITE HERE, the union representing just under 300,000 blue collar workers, I was both shushed and set straight about the current state of the labor movement.

A UNITE HERE recruiter and Harvard alumnus – institutional affiliation I thought instructive, not to mention illustrative of class hierarchies within the very vehicles ostensibly tasked with advancing the struggle against those hierarchies – informed me during the interview, without a hint of compunction, that the union is pretty “top-down” and rather “bureaucratic.” Her words.

The union is a democracy like the United States is a democracy, she said after cutting me off and interrupting me several times in true Ivy League fashion. The statement, declared without a hint of irony, should not have surprised given how Harvard feeds the plutocracy.

Now, “the United States is a democracy” only in the sense that – as a 2014 study from another Ivy League institution, Princeton, co-authored by a scholar at Northwestern – it is really not. Far from affording people a meaningful say in the decisions affecting them, which is what democracy is all about, the system resembles an oligarchy, mainstream political science research has asserted. The wealthy wield inordinate influence over formal political institutions. Class shapes the electoral arena and policy.

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‘Strike School’ in Session: California Faculty Association Prepares for April Strike

By James Anderson

The Board for the California Faculty Association, the union representing some 23,000 professors, lecturers and other educators across the California State University system, passed a resolution on February 5 to authorize a strike across all 23 CSU campuses on April 13-15 and April 18-19. To prepare to shut down school those five days this spring, the CFA held a ‘Strike School’ session on the California State University San Marcos campus in early February.

CFA Strike SchoolThe Strike School featured several CFA officers teaching and learning from their fellow faculty about what to expect should the five-day strike take place if the union and CSU management reach the end of the statutory process without an agreement. The Strike School is just one event in the union’s ongoing “Fight for Five” campaign that has been underway since last summer when the CSU management rejected the CFA’s proposals for a five percent raise for all faculty and for a 2.65 percent service salary increase for those eligible.

Darel Engen, the CFA chapter president at CSUSM, told Strike School students – some 50 plus faculty who crowded into CSUSM’s University Hall 440 February 9 – the five percent is actually “restoration of lost pay,” a recouping of the 11 percent raise faculty were unable to garner back in 2006.

The five day strike, he said, was chosen in lieu of withholding of labor indefinitely and instead of a strike specified for a shorter period of time, like one day or two, not only because it echoes the Fight for Five rallying cry. The choice was intended to be strategic, Engen explained, as the action should show the university the union is serious without derailing students’ plans to graduate in May. It also enables faculty to “keep something in reserve,” Engen added, so that another action could take place during the fall semester if necessary.

Salary negotiations – or, more accurately, lack thereof – have obliged the union to put such options on the table.

A series of studies conducted last year by the CFA, titled “Race to the Bottom,” show CSU faculty are paid less than their university peers throughout the state. The studies illustrate how both fees charged students and administrative salaries have increased while faculty pay has stagnated.

A FAQ sheet distributed during the Strike School on the San Marcos campus reiterated that the recession following the global financial crash of 2007-09 never ended for CSU faculty.

“Our salaries have been flat and have not kept up with inflation,” the sheet circulating among faculty stated. “When times were bad we tightened our belts, and now that times are good” – the university was recently in receipt of a $97 million budget augmentation – “we’re asked to continue to wait.”

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Home Care Workers in NYC Take Fight for 15 Personally

By James Anderson

Patricia O’Hara had just finished caring for a man suffering from Parkinson’s disease and was waiting for the train to take her back to Brooklyn when she explained why she got into the home care industry.

Her father also had Parkinson’s. Before O’Hara’s dad died in December 2008, she accompanied him as he navigated the US health care system, trying to get quality treatment covered at affordable cost.

O’Hara herself was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2006. When she discussed with friends her struggle to get cancer treatments covered, she said her friends would always comment they thought she had good insurance. She “thought so too,” she would add, until she got sick.

“A lot of times you have to fight to get what you need,” she said.

O’Hara, who works for Partners in Care, a private home care service with an office in Manhattan, became a member of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the largest healthcare union in the nation, as soon as she was eligible to join.

She and 1199SEIU have been engaged for some time now in the Fight for 15, the nationwide campaign to obtain a living wage of $15 an hour for workers in the service industries and other occupations where wages have stagnated.

From precariously employed adjunct professors, to airport personnel and Wal-Mart clerks, the campaign cuts across large sections of the underpaid working class, including the 60,000 workers who walked off their jobs in more than 200 cities last April to demand a higher minimum wage.

While several cities and municipalities across the country have passed legislation mandating a living wage, 1199SEIU wants to make New York the first state to enact a statewide $15 per hour law.

O’Hara makes $10 an hour, which the SEIU says is standard pay for the more than 200,000 home care workers in the greater New York City area.

Prior to being diagnosed with cancer and before her father’s illness worsened, both of which prompted her occupational shift, O’Hara made more money. She worked for 25 years in the fashion industry. When people ask her for details about her previous job, she asks them if they have seen the movie “The Devil Wears Prada.”

“Well I was Anne Hathaway,” she explains.

While receiving cancer treatments early on, O’Hara said she kept telling herself it was all a bad dream. She realized, though, that she couldn’t continue to work in the high-paced fashion business.

After several rounds of chemotherapy, some radiation and then more chemo, she started to recover. O’Hara has been cancer free since 2007.

Her own health care treatment left her wanting to provide similar services, she said. The economic crisis of 2007-09 drastically reduced employment opportunities, however. She said she could not find a job doing administrative work in health care, probably because of her fashion background. Once she started at Partners In Care, she said, it was clear this line of work was far more rewarding, if also more of a struggle, than fashion.

The job can vary appreciably depending on the client. Some are bedridden and require constant assistance. Some just do not want to be left alone.

A government projections report released several years ago noted the number of people over age 65 in New York is expected to increase 44 percent from the number living there in 2000 to the number projected to live in the city by 2030. Home care, or caretaker work, is one of the fastest growing jobs in the state as a result, with increased demands transferred onto the workers.

O’Hara said 12 hour days are not uncommon. Nor are live-in arrangements. Overnight stays are also routine.

Mary Ellen Gibbs, 56, a home care worker employed by ElderServe, said her job duties consist of taking those she is assisting to appointments with their doctors, helping to keep them active and engaged in conversation, playing cards if they want to and interacting in such a way that makes their day more pleasant.

Unlike O’Hara, Gibbs, only recently became active with the union.

Like O’Hara, however, she experienced life trauma that led her to pursue a home care career and, the last few months, engage in the Fight for 15.

Having worked as a hairstylist for most of her adult life, she was out of work for three years after falling down a flight of stairs when it snowed outside and the elevator in her apartment was out.

At 49, she broke her shoulder and lost everything.

“I found myself home with no insurance or anything,” she said, “and I had to crawl on the floor and take care of myself. I had to reinvent myself and become this” – a home care worker – “because at 50 years old nobody is going to hire you. They say that they don’t discriminate, but at 50 years old, you apply online and people don’t see you and they don’t know how good you are.”

Her rent increased from $750 per month in 2004 to $1,510 per month at present. Gibbs, who lives in the Bronx, still makes $10 an hour, $11 on weekends.

“You would think at this point in my life I would be able to start relaxing, enjoying my life,” she said. “I’m working harder now than I ever did in my life.”

She has to keep plugging, she said, or she will get a call from landlord with an eviction notice. Or she will be taken to court for failing to pay the bills she often falls behind on now.

Higher wages for home care works have been shown to lead to greater retention of qualified staff, while low wages have been shown to undermine the continuity of patient relationships professionals consider critical for quality care.

Sometimes Gibbs, O’Hara and others help the elderly transition out of often more expensive nursing home living. They also make it possible for people to continue living in their own homes and eschew more costly nursing home options.

“Doesn’t everyone deserve a quality of life?” – O’Hara asked the question about those receiving care services, but New Yorkers claim the same could apply to the underpaid people providing that care too.

When the Occupy Wall Street movement made waves in New York back in 2011, many of the people who would send organizers in Zuccotti recordings or statements about why they were the “99%” worked in jobs like Gibbs and O’Hara. The people sending in clips and comments emphasized how they really wanted to work in a job where they could care for people, but they could not even care for themselves or their families because employers pay so little in those jobs.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose mother was a care worker, has spoken about the situation with SEIU members and voiced support for their struggle.

State Senator Jeff Klein, head of the Independent Democratic Conference in New York, recently called the labor of long-term caretakers “God’s work.”

Dave Bates, the Communications Director for 1199SEIU, points out that there are people doing such saintly work who nevertheless live in homeless shelters because they cannot afford rent in New York City when making $10 an hour.

Unionists have held marches from Columbus Circle to Time Square, demonstrations at Foley Square and marches to the state office building on 125th Street to demonstrate broad-based support for the fight.

Diane Holmes, 65, an 1199SEIU member and worker-owner at Cooperative Home Care Associates in the Bronx, said she enjoys the benefits of a worker co-op, like having a share in the company and exercising greater decision-making power on the job through participation in committees. Nevertheless, she added, the union’s campaign to raise the minimum wage remains crucial.

Holmes, who was born and raised in Harlem but moved to the Bronx as a young adult, started home care work in the 1980s. She has been with CHCA for six years, and she still makes $10 per hour.

She said she is only going to be able to do this work for one or two more years before she has to retire.

“But regardless,” Holmes added, fielding questions over the phone while getting her blood pressure taken at a local health clinic, “I’m going to go out with a fight and help to initiate this $15 an hour and anything else that I’m able to do because I’m in it to win it. I’m a thoroughbred. This is what we do in the union. We fight for this … to make it better for the home care workers as well as the health aides. So I will be doing this until I’m not.”

SEIU plans to run 50 to 100 buses to take thousands of home care and health care workers to Albany for a press conference at the capitol on March 15, in hopes of garnering enough support for a statewide minimum wage of $15 an hour to be passed on April 1.

Waiting for her train ride back to Brooklyn, O’Hara reiterated how much home care workers like herself often enjoy decent health care benefits yet still need to insist upon something more, like a minimum of $15 an hour, to live on.

“It’s not asking for much, but it’s a little better – a lot better,” she said.


James Anderson is a doctoral candidate in the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He taught two media studies classes in the Department of Communication at California State University San Marcos during the fall 2015 semester. He has been a member of several unions, including Graduate Assistants United, the California Faculty Association, UFCW Local 135, and the Industrial Workers of the World. While a Graduate Assistant at SIUC, he served as steward for his college and as co-chair for the Legislative and Political Action Committee. He was a long-time member of the GAU Communications Committee. He regularly contributed to the GAU website and newsletter. His academic writing has appeared in journals like Critical Studies in Media Communication and the International Review of Information Ethics. His journalistic work and editorials have been featured in news outlets including Truthout, In These Times, Toward Freedom, ROAR Magazine, ZNet and Counterpunch.



On Love – Unrequited, Political and Otherwise … Again: Tackling the Taboo

By James Anderson

For three years in a row now I have contributed a Valentine’s Day, love-themed column to the Graduate Assistants United website.

In my 2014 piece on unrequited love, I referenced Noam Chomsky, Kendrick Lamar, Phil Ochs, Marina Sitrin, Spanish anarcho-syndicalists circa 1936, the ideological embodiment of capitalist cooptation (Steve Jobs) and political scientist James C. Scott, among others. In my 2015 piece I opened by quoting Eduardo Galeano before embarking on a wild and steamy tangent about the history of love and revolution in France, authoring what was in retrospect likely my semi-conscious and probably inappropriate attempt at a poorly-coded love letter.

Needless to say, the theme of unrequited love remains a recurring one in my life. Heretofore, few are lining up to “Dance Me to the End of Love,” to borrow the title of the Leonard Cohen track, and this love drought is despite – or perhaps because of – the multiple off-rhythm renditions of the song I insist each time on performing for my would-be beloved.

This Valentine’s Day thus offers the opportunity for further introspection, self-reflection, self-loathing and conscious use of self-deprecating humor. The latter, I should add, has proven woefully inadequate when it comes to cultivating intimate interpersonal relations but immensely helpful in keeping me sane on days like Valentine’s Day when I otherwise wind up alone diluting my bottle of cheap scotch with a mix of ice and heartache-filled tears.

Modern Valentine’s Day might have become popular, as Tom Chivers noted, in mid-18th century England with the “passing of love notes,” the “precursor to the St Valentine’s Day card as we know it,” followed by Esther Howland of Worcester, Mass., mass producing cards using cheaper lace in the United States in 1847, leading to the present-day commercialized holiday. Yes, the holiday now sees some couples enjoying fine wine and orgasmic Michael Recchiuti chocolates while others keep themselves warm with tear-scotch, but that is no justification for ignoring it.

Painful and problematic as the day is, it also offers us a chance to draw important parallels and broach taboo topics. That sounds sexy anyway. So let’s roll with it.

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Farce v. Fact in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association

By James Anderson

The outcome of a case being heard by the United States Supreme Court could determine the fate of organized labor.

With Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the Supreme Court will decide on two matters liable to impact the ability of unions to remain viable, capable of protecting workers’ rights.

Rebecca Friedrichs, described as “a dissident teacher in Southern California,” appears poised to continue a trend of severing the land of palm trees and exorbitant rental rates from its counter-cultural history with her legal affront on organized labor now being considered by the nine most influential justices in the US.

The Supreme Court justices must decide whether a decision from the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Ed. should be overruled, thereby invalidating public sector “agency shop” arrangements. Those arrangements are what currently permit the CTA and other unions to collect “fair share” fees from all employees at a unionized workplace whether or not those employees opt to become members of the union. Under the present system, no educators are forced to join a union, but all receive the benefits of union representation as required by law. Those opposed to paying additional dues and joining a union currently do not have to.

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